2.2 Antibiotics and Beef

Are there antibiotics in beef?

The aim of the beef industry and the government regulatory system in Canada is to provide a safe and wholesome product to consumers. Regulations on veterinary drug use in food animals and drug-residue testing programs ensure that the product in the grocery store is free of residue from antibiotics or synthetic hormones used in livestock.

Residues of antibiotics in beef are extremely rare. In fact, most recent results of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) residue testing program show 100per cent compliance. If residue levels were detected, the meat or meat product would be prohibited from sale.  Surveillance systems in Canada and worldwide have been implemented to identify specific practices that may contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Currently, there is no evidence that use of antibiotics pose any health risk to consumers; however, the Canadian Cattleman’s Association, along with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, and the federal government has introduced guidelines to minimize antibiotic use in animals.  Consumers can be assured that beef is a safe and nutritious choice for healthy eating.

Alberta Beef Producers’ Worried About Antibiotic Use and Resistance in Cattle? brochure

And corresponding resources

Canada’s Veterinary Drug Approval Process

BCRC’s Blog Post: Q & A on Conventional Beef Production

Are there antibiotics in beef?


Why does the beef industry use antibiotics and what do they use?

The beef industry uses a range of antimicrobials to treat or control illness and disease, to prevent illness and disease and to promote growth. Health Canada has four classes of antimicrobials that categorize these products according to their importance to human medicine. These classes are very high importance, high importance, medium importance and low importance. The beef industry utilizes antimicrobials from all four of these classes but 71per cent of antibiotics used in livestock and pets are from the medium and low importance classes. This is very different from human medicine where 87per cent of antibiotics used are of very high or high importance.

The antimicrobials that are used to improve growth and feed efficiency  are called ionophores and are the bulk of the antimicrobials used in the beef industry. These products increase feed efficiency, decrease methane production and help prevent coccidiosis. Ionophores are classed as low importance to human medicine. In fact, ionophores are not used in human medicine nor do they work the same as those used in human medicine, meaning that their use does not contribute to antibiotic resistance.

High risk animals, such as light weight, freshly weaned calves that have been recently transported to a feedlot are the most common class of cattle to receive preventative antimicrobials. These can be administered through feed or through injection depending on the product. Often these preventative measures ensure that animals remain healthy and the use of more important antimicrobials are unnecessary.

As with people, cattle do get sick. Farmers and ranchers work with their veterinarians to treat animals with the appropriate product and dosage. Farmers and ranchers are also required to get a prescription from their local veterinarian for the use of many antimicrobials.

BCRC Blog Post regarding growth promotants containing information on ionophores

Why does the beef industry use antibiotics and what do they use?


Is antibiotic resistance an issue in the beef industry?

Antibiotic resistance is monitored wherever antibiotics are used, including the beef industry. Some of these surveillance programs include the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance, FoodNet Canada and the Canadian Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System. Management practices such as accurate diagnosis, prompt treatment, and choosing the proper product for the severity of the situation lower the chance of antibiotic resistance. Producers also employ management practices that reduce the need to use antibiotics in the first place such as proper vaccination, low-stress weaning, preconditioning calves, proper nutrition, avoiding  comingling and ensuring adequate pen space. Direct marketing weaned calves to the backgrounder or feedlot can also  reduce antibiotic use by minimizing trucking and exposure to auction marts and other cattle which reduces stress. This is an ongoing area of research in the beef industry and producers strive for continued improvement. Veterinarians and extension organizations such as the Beef Cattle Research Council translate research findings into best management practices for producers to utilize on their farms and ranches. Farmers and ranchers rely on effective antibiotics for the welfare of their animals by preventing and treating illness and disease. The proper usage of these medications are in their best interest as well as their animals.

Is antibiotic resistance an issue in the beef industry?